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6 Reasons to Learn a Foreign Language (and Help Your Brain)

6 Reasons to Learn a Foreign Language (and Help Your Brain)
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English has been called the lingua franca of today’s world. “Hi,” “bye” and “thank you” are known around the world and English is part of the curriculum for young students. In France, a debate is underway about teaching courses in French universities in English; the proposal has generated quite an uproar out of fears that French could be marginalized in its own country.

Though English is used so widely, there are still many reasons for native speakers of English (among which I count myself) to learn a foreign language. If you’re looking for a summer project, learning a new language — even just the basics! — is one to consider.

1. Learning a language is good for your brain.

Scientists have found a link between speaking more than one language and the prevention of Alzheimer’s. Earlier research had found that those who have been bilingual since childhood have improved executive functioning — the “higher order” thinking involved in making decisions — as they age. Bilingual seniors have, it was found, an enhanced ability for switching attention, a skill that often wanes with age.

Other research has found that learning a language at an accelerated rate can help some parts of the brain to grow. While it is the case that children have an easier time learning new languages, adults’ brains can be “re-wired” from intense foreign language study. It’s never too late to try to learn.

2. The Internet and computers offer many great tools for learning a foreign language.

Websites and software programs abound that can instruct you in the basics of a language. If you’re not inclined to learn everything about conjugating the verb “to be” in Spanish or Greek, you can also find offers plenty of resources such as lists of commonly used phrases for travelers. While I used to have to search out bookstores that sold newspapers and books in foreign languages, these are now readily available on the Internet.

3. People around the world are learning English, but understanding varies.

Yes, English is taught around the world, with many students in China and elsewhere starting to study it in their elementary years, but a non-native speaker’s grasp of the language varies. American universities have been eager to recruit and enroll students from China, many of whom can pay to attend. But quite a few lack skills in speaking and comprehension. A company that advises American universities and colleges about China found that only 18 percent of Chinese students who can afford tuition at U.S. schools have advanced linguistic skills.

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119 comments

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7:01AM PDT on Sep 9, 2013

More than one language skills helps to widen your horizons and also mental agility.

12:36PM PDT on Jul 13, 2013

This article makes me happy to be a Francophile:)

8:36AM PDT on Jul 7, 2013

Not intending to be facetious or rude, natural-born Americans would do well to learn to first speak English. It is a little humorous and even sadder that we do not speak or know our own language as well as many other nationalities know theirs--or ours. Americans are generally ignorant of proper English grammar beyond the middle school level. Even erstwhile journalists and "professional" bloggers torture and murder our native language.

Am I exaggerating? Craft a sentence in the imperfect subjunctive mood, the future anterior tense, or even just a sentence with a reflexive or pronominal verb. If you can, you breathe rarer air than most Americans. Recently home from more than a year in Europe, it is not unusual to encounter a European fluent in two, three, four, or more languages.

9:56AM PDT on Jun 27, 2013

Here you can find easy way to learn languages online http://learnlanguagesonline.gr8.com

6:36AM PDT on Jun 17, 2013

Great reasons to learn a language, especially the last point on being able to express something in a much richer way in one language than another, and not being able to translate certain concepts and ideas.

Another great reason to learn a language is for travel purpose. You couldtravel to Cuba to learn Spanish for example, and just by learning the language you gain so much more insight into the true culture.

12:11PM PDT on Jun 14, 2013

Absolutely, people (if they can, for any reasons like money, time or whaterver) should pay attention to knowing more than their native language.

2:37AM PDT on Jun 13, 2013

spanish should be mandatory in the US, seriously.

1:53PM PDT on Jun 12, 2013

Great idea... Thanks for the challenge!!!

12:44PM PDT on Jun 12, 2013

I used to be pretty fluent in Spanish, but have lost a lot of it over the years. I can still understand Italian when my Dad talks to me... but I've never been able to think fast enough to respond.

3:56PM PDT on Jun 11, 2013

I could read and write French in high school and early adulthood, but over the years with lack of use, most of it went away. Every once in awhile I would brush up on it and your article is compelling me to do the same again --- and even add some Spanish. Wish me luck! Thanks for the post, it was very good.

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